When Eliza Skinner interviewed for a writing job on “Earth to Ned,” a new Disney+ series in which a celebrity-obsessed alien decides he’d rather host a late-night talk show than destroy planet Earth, the comedian and writer says it seemed too good to be true.
“I was a little skeptical because it was too perfect for me,” Skinner says. “I love sci-fi. I love late night. I love puppets.
“Literally, one of the reasons that I moved to New York City when I was just out of college was I thought I was going to be a puppeteer. So I was like, ‘Wait a minute, this can’t be that great.’”
Skinner, who’d worked as a writer on TV series such as “The Late Late Show With James Corden” and “Drop The Mic,” got the gig. She also got the chance to make the show, which is aimed at adults as much as kids, as odd as she wanted.
“Every step of the way where I was like, ‘Oh, is this too weird?’” Skinner says she was assured it was not. “Never once were they like, ‘Can you make it a little bit cuter?’
Laughs in space
The premise for “Earth To Ned” is strange but simple: Ned, the Earth-obsessed commander of an alien warship, launches a late-night talk show from the bridge of their ship, drafting his second-in-command Cornelius to be his on-air sidekick.
Human guests are beamed aboard without any advance notice to them — Andy Richter is the first guest on the show, and others include comedians such as Kristen Schaal, Billy Dee Williams, RuPaul, and Rachel Bloom.
The ship’s A.I. entity, known as BETI, serves as Ned’s producer, her floating holographic head reminiscent of the disembodied genie Jambi on “Pee Wee’s Playhouse.”
“Like ‘Pee Wee’s Playhouse,’ this show wasn’t developed as a show for kids,” Skinner says. “They were developed for adults — and then as you start making them you’re like, ‘Oh, kids are definitely going to want to watch this.’
“So we need to make something that’s inviting for them, too, and it kind of lets everybody be in the room.”
The CLODs — Cloned Living Organisms of Destruction — are there to provide that kid-approved chaos, acting as sort of a cross between Minions and Gremlins.
“These are aliens who, in their world, can do anything that they want but have no idea how the rules in our world work,” she says of Ned & Co. “It leads to a lot of high jinks and things just being off but energetic.”
Another inspiration came from Skinner’s love of “The Muppet Show,” and the way it provided a mix of great talent into its episodes.
“It introduced me to people that I didn’t know about,” she says. “I didn’t know about Debbie Harry before I watched ‘The Muppet Show.’ Even Harry Belafonte or Paul Williams. I found these people on that show, and it was like, ‘Oh, well, if the Muppets like them and find them interesting, then maybe I will, too.’”
Ned’s totally not secret crush
In one of the many unexplained mysteries of the galaxy, Ned is absolutely gaga for Rula Lenska, an actress best-remembered in the United States for a series of hairspray commercials four decades ago.
Skinner says that bit developed out of some banter between puppeteers Paul Rugg and Michael Oosterom, who voice Ned and Cornelius respectively.
“I was like, ‘Oh, let’s put that in the show,’ and they said, ‘Oh, no, no, no, nobody’s going to know that,’” she says. “I don’t care if nobody knows it; that’s part of the fun of this.
As for whether Ned’s love will ever be requited, Skinner says it’s something they talk about all the time — booking Lenska for the show — though that’s not happened yet.
“But yeah, I hope she’s having fun with it,” she says.
Comedy in a pandemic
For Skinner, September has been a notable month. The first 10 episodes of “Earth To Ned” and her debut comedy album, “Regarding My Lovers” both dropped, incredibly, on the same day, Sept. 4.
“If I’d had my druthers, they would have not been coming out on the same day so I could talk about different things at different times,” Skinner says. “But by having two major, different things come out, I was like, ‘Well, people have to like one of them!’”
“Regarding My Lovers,” Skinner’s debut comedy album, is her way of wrapping up a lot of her favorite jokes before they’re put on the shelf to make way for new material.
“So that I know they exist out there in the world,” she says. “Then I can start working on a new batch of jokes.”
The collection is both a live recording of a stand-up set as well as a handful of songs she wrote and recorded with musician friends before the pandemic shut everything down.
“I think right now we need as much entertainment in as many different forms as we can get since we’re all dealing with so much reality,” Skinner says, laughing as she adds, “We need things, or I need things, that make me feel hopeful and interested and distracted mindfully from time to time.”